A Side Trip To Yixing
Located 60km (37 miles) southwest of Wuxi on the western shores of Tai Hu, Yixing is famous for its "Yixing ware" pottery, specifically small teapots and decorative objects made from a distinctive dark red clay (often referred to as "purple sand" due to a high level of iron in the soil). You can see a collection of Yixing pots, flasks, and urns from over 6,000 years ago, as well as the latest vases and teapots from contemporary masters, at the ceramics museum Yixing Taoci Bowuguan, Dingshan Bei Lu 150 (¥20; 8am-5pm) in Dingshu Town, 15km (9 miles) southwest of Yixing. Recently renovated, the museum offers coherent explanations in English and is pretty well put together for a small-town museum. It's worthwhile for visitors who are really into pottery. You can purchase a certified Yixing teapot set (teapot with six cups) for ¥200 to ¥300 at the museum store. Outside are workshops where visitors can watch ceramics artisans at work. Across the highway is a dusty market, where amazing deals can be struck for a wide range of pottery from ¥25 to ¥200.
Yixing also has some karst caves near Dingshu Town. Shanjuan Dong (¥120; 7:30am-5pm) located 25km (15 miles) southwest of Yixing, has three main chambers of oddly shaped rocks. Visitors may climb to the upper cave or take the more interesting short ride on a flat-bottomed boat in the lower cave along a 120m-long (393-ft.) underground stream that leads out to a tacky temple complex commemorating China's Romeo and Juliet, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. Twenty-two kilometers (13 miles) southwest of town, a Daoist temple fronts the large Zhanggong Dong (¥305; 7:30am-5:30pm), which contains a labyrinthine 72 halls. The Hall of the Dragon King has wide steps that run all the way to the top of the hill, where there's a view of the dusty countryside.
From the Yixing Bus Station (Sheng Qichezhan; tel. 0510/8794-5031), buses depart regularly for Wuxi (90 min.; ¥22.50) and Nanjing (2 1/2 hr.; ¥57). Once in Yixing, tourist bus no. Y1 (¥5) will take you from the bus station to the ceramics museum and Zhanggong Dong (Zhanggong Cave), while tourist bus no. Y2 heads to Shanjuan Dong (Shanjuan Cave).
Yixing is usually a day trip from Wuxi or Nanjing, but for those who wish to stay over, the renovated three-star Yixing Guoji Fandian (Yixing International Hotel), Tongzhengguan Lu 52 (tel. 0510/8791-6888; fax 0510/8790-0767), has clean and comfortable rooms for ¥498 to ¥798, with 20% to 30% discount possible. The rooms are fitted with all new furniture, fridge, and satellite TV. The hotel has three restaurants serving decent fare.